If you’re an apartment dweller, one of the easiest ways to access to fresh air is to spend this summer creating your very own urban garden. Urban gardens make such a fantastic impact on the community, as working outside is a natural way to relieve stress, and in grubby, polluted cities, there’s no thrill quite like hanging out in your own little nature-filled paradise. Gardens also make a great education tool for kids, prevent storm water runoff by absorbing rain into soil and plants, and offer a fabulous opportunity to grow your own vegetables, fruits and herbs.
The only thing it really takes to get an urban garden going is the desire to have one. The rest is pretty simple from there! I know it sounds intimidating, so here’s a simple guide to getting started on your own garden, even if you’ve never done anything like this before.
1. Decide what kind of garden you want to have. You can use your garden for whatever you’d like. Some people use their gardens for community outreach and teaching local kids about the natural world, others use it as a decorative space full of flowers or a space to grow food. You could even make it a DIY playground full of herbs and other goodies that can be used for crafts and homemade treats. What kind of access you’d like to offer to your space is totally up to you: it can be a private space, open to the public, or can have specific visiting hours.
2. Find the perfect setting. Urban gardening can be done anywhere from the confines of an apartment to a vacant lot. However, urban gardens are most beneficial when they are located in a public space. Parks, schools, rooftops, and empty lots are great locations to start a garden of your own. There’s also the option of getting involved with an already-existing garden, which saves you the start-up effort. It’s common for future gardeners to acquire an abandoned lot from their city, which you won’t be expected to make rent payments for. Be aware of your city’s regulations regarding land use and the terms of your space. Do you get the lot indefinitely? What happens if someone wants to buy the lot? Make sure you know your rights.
Suburb-dwellers, you may want to consider using your own backyard for the project. (If you want to allow public access to your yard, make sure people are aware they can stop in!) If you’re a city dweller and don’t feel ready to take on a larger space of your own, a plant-filled window box outside your apartment is a great way to dip your toes into caring for plants. If rainwater soaks into the box’s soil, it prevents storm water runoff on the city streets and plays its part in helping out the environment.
3. Get as many people involved as possible. The scope of the project may become bigger than you, and extra help tending to the garden is great to have on hand. In a city environment, people will likely jump at the chance to escape the concrete jungle for a few hours and do some gardening. Reach out to your community and ask local organizations if they’d like to get onboard and send some of their volunteers to help.
4. Get planting. The sky is the limit when it comes to which plants you choose and they are relatively inexpensive and easy to nurture. If you plan to grow food, it’s a good idea to get your soil tested to make sure it’s healthy. No need to have a complicated plan in place for every detail of what you’ll be growing ‚ just dive right in! It really is that simple.
5. Consider reaching out to kids. Gardens are a great way for local kids to learn about their earth. In a city, local children may not have many opportunities to play outdoors or get their hands dirty. If you open your space to young people, they just might love to help you out with planting, watering and maintaining the space. In return, they get a hands-on science lesson.
6. Get your compost on. Compost makes your soil extra healthy and better at retaining water, which makes it better for the earth. Leftover items like leaves, fruits and veggies, grass and coffee grounds are easily composted. There’s an inexplicable sense of pride that comes from making your own compost, try it yourself to see what I mean!
7. Think about adding animals to the mix. Depending on how much commitment you’d like to take on, animals can bring extra joy to your garden, especially if kids regularly visit the space. Chickens are quiet (just don’t get a rooster!), inexpensive, surprisingly easy to care for, and provide you with eggs. Rabbits also make for great garden pets, and surprisingly, a beehive also makes an awesome (and harmless) addition to your garden. Get in touch with your local beekeeping society to get yourself a hive.
8. Fear not. This process really is as simple as it sounds. Complications may arise along the way, but when they do, there are plenty of resources to turn to for help. Get in touch with local gardeners or do a quick search online — there are thousands of people who’d love to give you advice and show you the ropes. There are also countless books out there that go into detail about everything from making a chicken coop to harvesting veggies. We all have the privilege of getting to nurture and reap the rewards of this awesome planet we live on; it’s also refreshing to get away from the hot summer city streets for a few hours. Spending an afternoon in a sunny garden and knowing that you’re helping out your neighborhood, will leave you grinning ear to ear and more zenned out than yoga class.
9. Enjoy the rewards of your hard work! This is where the fun comes in: you will yourself with fresh basil, heads of lettuce, blueberries, honey, or, depending on the scope of your garden, even fresh eggs. There’s nothing quite like picking your first fresh, ripe strawberry of the season or devouring a fruit salad that was grown in your own backyard. For the craftier among us, what you grow can provide you the means to make jam, preserves, fresh herbal tea, soap, fresh-squeezed juice, creative veggie recipes like zucchini brownies or smoothies, or whatever looks like fun on Pinterest this week.